11 Best Travel Destinations in the U.S. for Art & Design

Amid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s a natural time to start planning a winter escape. For art and design enthusiasts who are fatigued by virtual art museum tours and overwhelmed by wanderlust, look no further. We’ve compiled a list of the best travel destinations in the U.S. for art lovers eager to explore, complete with both indoor and outdoor (read: COVID-friendly) highlights, from galleries and museums to architectural walking tours.

From well-known metropolitan hubs to the country’s hidden gems, these eleven travel destinations are worth the flight.

1. Atlanta, Georgia

High Museum of Art, Atlanta
High Museum of Art. Photo by Luke van Zyl via Unsplash.

The city of Atlanta is, unsurprisingly, filled with history, culture, and art, translating to seemingly countless activities for art and design lovers to keep busy with, which is why Atlanta is our first choice for best travel destinations. For one, Atlanta is home to the Southeast’s only design museum, the MODA (Museum of Design Atlanta), which is certainly worth a trip among many other art museums and architectural wonders across the city.

Indoor Highlights

MODA, the High Museum of Art, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia (MOCA GA).

Outdoor Highlights

The ArtAround Roswell Sculpture Tour (see: Ice Pops, a giant popsicle sculpture); the ever-changing murals and sculptures along the Atlanta BeltLine; and for families, the Abernathy Greenway Playable Art Park, where children can climb, swing, and jump from public artworks.

2. Chicago, Illinois

Millennial Park, Chicago
Millennium Park, Chicago. Photo by Sawyer Bengtson via Unsplash.

Art and design is everywhere in Chicago. The city itself could, perhaps, be considered a “living art exhibit waiting to be explored.” One of the most famous art museums in the nation, the Art Institute of Chicago, has one of the biggest collections of impressionist works. Worth a stop for an epic selfie is Millennium Park, which boasts an inspiring collection of outdoor sculptures including the iconic Chicago bean, Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor.

Indoor Highlights

The Art Institute of Chicago; Evanston Art Center (get hands-on with arts & crafts workshops); Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; National Museum of Mexican Art; Museum of Contemporary Photography; the Design Museum of Chicago; the Hyde Park Art Center and Logan Center, both featuring contemporary works by Chicagoans.

Outdoor Highlights

Millennium Park (see also: Jaume Plensa’s video towers fountain, Frank Gehry’s performance stage, and rotating exhibitions at Boeing Galleries); Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio (1889) and birthplace of the architect’s Prairie style, as well as FLW’s Frederick C. Robie House (1906), The Rookery (1905), and Emil Bach House (1915); The Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park, featuring 30 master works of public art; the Chicago Arts District, where gallery walks happen on the second Friday of every month; and Dali Plaza, featuring the famous Picasso statue.

3. Asheville, North Carolina

River Arts District, Asheville, United States
River Arts District, Asheville. Photo by Kyle Glenn via Unsplash.

Asheville, North Carolina is perhaps one of the lesser-known art and travel destinations in the U.S., but it has a buzzing art district filled with must-see artisan shops and galleries. Known especially for George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate, the city is surrounded the Blue Ridge Mountains, which offer endless outdoor adventures in all seasons — and gorgeous views.  

Indoor Highlights

The Folk Art Center, featuring displays of Appalachian crafts including wood carvings and pottery; the Asheville Art Museum featuring a collection of 20th- and 21st-century American art.

Outdoor Highlights

The River Arts District, which includes 165 artist studios for prime window shopping, located in turn-of-the-century industrial buildings. The Downtown Art District is also a must-see in Asheville, filled with glass, photography, and metalwork galleries. From 5-8 PM on the first Friday of the month from April through December, the District holds First Friday Art Walks, perhaps the perfect pre-dinner evening stroll for art lovers.

4. Cincinnati, Ohio

Ruthven mural of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, in Cincinnati.
Ruthven mural of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, in Cincinnati. Photo by Sean Foster via Unsplash.

See out-of-the ordinary artworks and up-and-coming art neighborhoods in Cincinnati, Ohio, next on our list of the best travel destinations in the US. One of the biggest attractions worth seeing is the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), which as of 2003 sits in a fascinating building designed by the visionary, world-renowned architect, Zaha Hadid

Indoor Highlights

The CAC; the Cincinnati Art Museum, with 67,000 objects of art history; the Taft Museum of Art, featuring European and American fine and decorative arts; the 21c Museum Hotel, an unusual gallery space featuring rotating exhibits by nationally known living artists; and the American Sign Museum, “the country’s premiere institution dedicated to preserving and presenting the history of American signage.”

Outdoor Highlights

The CAC (admire Hadid’s work from outside); Final Friday in Pendleton and Second Sunday on Main, neighborhood art walks featuring works by local artists and craftspeople; Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park (featuring Art Climb open air sculpture); and Cincinnati’s vibrant outdoor murals, including The Hands that Built Our City

5. Lansing, Michigan

Broad Art Museum, Lansing, MI
Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum. Photo by Lynn El Khoury via Unsplash.

We’re calling out Lansing, Michigan as an art and travel destination thanks largely to its impressive Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum, also designed by Zaha Hadid. Located at Michigan State University in East Lansing, the contemporary art museum draws in crowds from across the nation. Lansing also has an up-and-coming art scene, with many events and exhibitions being held in its Old Town.

Indoor Highlights

The Broad Art Museum; the Broad Art Lab, the satellite to the Broad Art Museum that brings together the community for art events and often showcases works by Michigan State students; the Michigan State University Museum, exploring art through the lens of science, sociology, history, and culture; the Lansing Art Gallery; and the Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art.

Outdoor Highlights

Art Path, a “public art installation that transforms Lansing River Trail into a walkable art gallery”; Arts Night Out, a bimonthly recurring event that usually happens in the Old Town, featuring local arts, crafts, and live performances; the Downtown Sculpture Walk, a tour of public art installations across Lansing, including Ivan Iler’s Portrait of a Dreamer; and the Old Town mural, created by five artists, two coordinators, eight volunteers, and 25 teens.

6. Houston, Texas

Houston Presidential Heads sculpture.
Houston Presidential Heads sculpture. Photo by Alisa Matthews via Unsplash.

A short flight from Boston and a great excuse to get some sun this season, Houston, Texas has a booming art scene awaiting exploration, landing it number six on our list of best travel destinations. The city is home to the Houston Art and Museum District, which consists of 20 museums and cultural organizations. Houston is also filled with hundreds of must-see outdoor sculptures and murals, so our list of outdoor highlights was a challenge to narrow down.

Indoor Highlights

The Houston Center for Photography; the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum; the Menil Collection (featuring impressive Surrealist pieces, it’s one of the largest private collections of the 20th century); and the Rothko Chapel, housing 14 Rothko paintings. 

Outdoor Highlights

The Broken Obelisk sculpture outside the Rothko Chapel, commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr.; Second Saturday at Sawyer Yards, a working train yard and campus featuring 400 artist studios; the “Twilight Epiphany” sequence at Skyspace, an interactive outdoor installation by James Turrell; the Public Art of the University of Houston System, containing more than 600 works; the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern; street art at the Harrisburg Art Museum; the Trail of Art in Houston Heights; and the Houston Presidential Heads and giant Beatles sculptures.

7. Marfa, Texas

Marfa, Texas
A rare snow storm in Marfa, TX. Photo by Caleb Fisher via Unsplash.

Marfa, Texas is a tiny desert town and may not be the travel destination you had in mind, but don’t let its size and remote location fool you. Marfa is increasingly listed in US design guides, and was called an “unlikely art oasis” by NPR. Back in the ‘70s, artist Donald Judd drove a truckload of his art to Marfa, and today, it’s practically become a destination dedicated to his work

Indoor Highlights

Donald Judd’s home and studio, featuring 100 of his iconic milled aluminum boxes; The Chinati Foundation, featuring large-scale exhibitions by Judd’s artists friends; Ballroom Marfa, a dancehall-turned-non-profit-art-space that’s home to the permanent exhibition, Prada Marfa, a model Prada store sitting in the middle of the desert, complete with real Prada shoes and bags. 

Outdoor Highlights

Marfa Invitational, an international art fair, and outdoor artworks at The Chinati Foundation.

8. New Orleans, Louisiana

Downtown New Orleans, LA
Downtown New Orleans. Photo by Aya Salman via Unsplash.

Get a rich history of Southern culture across the city of New Orleans, another travel destination for art and design lovers across the nation. Mardi Gras World, where you can learn how the floats in the Mardi Gras parade are built, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art are just a few art spots worth calling out. New Orleans is also a great place to hunt for public murals, as the city boasts some impressive and vibrantly colored works that keep graffiti art enthusiasts flocking.

Indoor Highlights

Ogden Museum of Southern Art; Mardi Gras World; New Orleans Museum of Art; Kako Gallery; Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans; Newcomb Art Museum; New Orleans African American Museum; The McKenna Museum of African American Art; and Rodrigue Studio.

Outdoor Highlights

Colonial architecture across New Orleans, such as the Gallier House (take an architecture tour!); Street art, including Light Mural by Brandan Odums, Allen Toussaint by Brendon Art, the Ashé Cultural Arts Center mural, Dr. John by MTO Graff, Unframed collection of murals, I’m Here for You by Craig Cundiff, Banksy’s street art portraying life during and after Hurricane Katrina, the Gasa Gasa mural, Jazz Legends by BMike; Louis Armstrong Park; Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden; New Orleans Botanical Garden; New Orleans City Park; The Art Garden & Floating Gallery; Frenchmen Art Market; and the Funnel Tunnel sculpture.

9. New York, New York

The Vessel, New York
The Vessel, New York. Photo by Ran Berkovich via Unsplash.

Of course, our list of art and design travel destinations wouldn’t be complete without New York City. An global hub for visual and performing arts and the city to make it in for any rising artist, this concrete jungle is oh-so-obviously teeming with museums, outdoor spaces, street art, and beyond, making it worth not one but several trips. Here are just a few of our favorite highlights.

Indoor Highlights

Endless museums and galleries are worth visiting, including (but not limited to) The Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Guggenheim Museum, the Frick Collection; New Museum; Museum of Art and Design; the Brooklyn Museum; the American Museum of Folk Art; David Zwirner Gallery; The Drawing Center; and Fotografiska New York.

Outdoor Highlights

The Storm King Art Center, located just an hour north of the city in lower Hudson Valley, consisting of 500 acres of outdoor space and 100 sculptures by artists like Roy Lichtenstein and David Smith; Frank Lloyd Wright’s The Crimson Beech (1959), a private home on Staten Island; 520 West 28th Street, or the Zaha Hadid Building, the only residential building designed by Hadid in New York; outdoor art installations on the High Line; Claudia Weiser’s Rehearsal at Brooklyn Bridge Park; David Hammond’s Day’s End on the Hudson River; the Collective Vision mural in Union Square; The Vessel in Hudson Yards; and Yayoi Kusama’s exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden. 

10. Palm Springs, CA

Mid-century modern home in Palm Springs, CA.
Mid-century modern home in Palm Springs, CA. Photo by Finn via Unsplash.

Palm Springs has been a Hollywood getaway spot since the 1920s, best-known for being a mid-century modern style architectural hub. Mid-century millionaire homes dotting this desert town have long proved works of art in themselves. Unfortunately, many of these homes are hidden behind security gates, but architecture enthusiasts can see them via the Palm Springs Mod Squad van tour, or wait until February for Modernism Week, a art and design fair that opens up a selection of these private homes to visitors. Other great spots for art & design include a number of desert sculpture gardens.

Indoor Highlights

The Palm Springs Art Museum; The Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center; and Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Outdoor Highlights

Mid-century homes to see include the Frey House II by Albert Frey, Elrod House by John Lautner, and the House of Tomorrow, the former Elvis Presley Honeymoon Hideaway, by Dan Palmer and William Krisel; Noah Purifoy Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum; Desert Christ Park; Salvation Mountain; Desert Art Collection Sculpture Garden; The Ace Hotel Mural, Desert Void; Elrod Sculpture Garden at the Palm Springs Art Museum; Sky Art Sculpture Garden; the Melissa Morgan Sculpture Garden; and Sunnylands Center & Gardens.

11. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, one of the best travel destinations in the U.S.
Canyon Road, Santa Fe. Photo by Sean Quillen via Unsplash.

Last but not least on our list of best travel destinations in the U.S. is Santa Fe, New Mexico. This city has long been attracting artists from all across the nation, most notably Georgia O’Keeffe, who made the trek from New York City. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is a must-see here, featuring the largest collection of the artist’s work. Among a plethora of other art attractions, make sure to also stop by the Palace of the Governors to purchase handcrafted turquoise jewelry from Native American artists.

Indoor Highlights

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; the Palace of the Governors; the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture; the Wheelwright Museum; The House of Eternal Return by Meow Wolf; The Center for Contemporary Arts; Form & Concept gallery; New Mexico Museum of Art; Museum of International Folk Art; the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art; Institute of American Indian Arts; SITE Santa Fe.

Outdoor Highlights

Canyon Road and the Railyard District for gallery window shopping; Shidoni Sculpture Garden; SITE Santa Fe (from the outside); Santa Fe Botanical Garden; Allan Houser Sculpture Gardens; and the Prescott Gallery & Sculpture Garden